60 MAY 2021 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL STATE VP VOICE | BY TAMIR WASER, ACTING STATE VP AFSA NEWS Contact: State VP Tom Yazdgerdi ,YazdgerdiTK@state.gov | (202) 647-8160 The Importance of Leadership Training Leadership training is criti- cal to improving the culture of the department. Recent steps to increase access and ensure that training pro- motes a more inclusive work- place are welcome changes. But we all need to do more to get the most out of this training, in particular making it a regular part of how we develop our skills. Leadership training has been mandatory for many years, but we don’t value it as an institution. Managers gen- erally find reasons to cancel subordinates’ training—there is always urgent business in the office. The department cut funding that would sup- port overseas employees taking it midtour. All of this has led to classes being impossible to sign up for during summer transfer season or right after promotion lists are released. This is not leadership train- ing; it is box checking. One of the few positive consequences of COVID-19 has been the increased use of virtual training by the Foreign Service Institute, including for leadership courses. This has allowed more students to enroll from wherever they may be located. FSI has provided courses for distant time zones in the past, and may do so in the future if bureaus ensure there will be sufficient par- ticipation. It is something members have told us they welcome. It is important not to sacrifice the long-term benefit of leadership train- ing for the exigencies of the moment. Indeed, learning to accept and embrace those trade-offs for future benefits is a key leadership lesson. But too many managers still pull students out at the last minute, citing the press of business. AFSA calls on senior lead- ers at posts and in bureaus to allow their team members to participate—and not just attend the course, but be able to focus on it. A student who has to check in with the office at every break and spend their lunch on the phone doing their usual job is not going to get much out of the course. We want students to have more flexibility on when and how to take the course going forward. We welcome FSI’s intention to offer some online sessions each year to facili- tate more students having access to the training, but in addition to in-person options. I know from my own expe- rience that some of the most valuable parts of leadership training are the informal conversations with fellow students. In my last class a Civil Service colleague and I shared a similar challenge in our teams; we discussed it over lunch, and I came away with a new perspective, which helped me address a long-standing problem. FSI has made the Miti- gating Unconscious Bias course a prerequisite for all leadership courses, even if you have taken it before, and is integrating discussion of bias into all courses. New modules in the Ambassado- rial Seminar and the Deputy Chief of Mission/Principal Officer (DCM/PO) course are designed to foster a greater awareness of how the actions of top leaders set the climate throughout an organization. These are important, but initial, steps to address the issues of workplace culture that members tell us are a major reason why they con- sider leaving the Service. One of the most impor- tant parts of leadership training is the opportunity to receive feedback through 360-degree assessments. If completed honestly by a range of bosses, peers and subordinates, including those who are critical of us, they give the information necessary to translate the principles of the class into personal action plans. So, the next time you get a request to fill out a 360 evaluation, do the person a favor by taking the time to fill it out honestly and thoughtfully. And when you have to pick the people you will send yours to, don’t be afraid to list a few who aren’t your biggest fans. We will not get better hearing only from people who like us or who are like us. Leadership training is more than a once-a-grade activity. It is a constant pro- cess of learning and growth. Teams should continue the conversation with speakers, internal discussions around specific readings or other opportunities. Consular Affairs has been a leader in this area. And for additional help as you move into a new job or face a particular manage- ment challenge, FSI has a coaching service that can support you through the process. AFSA believes that effec- tive leadership training is a crucial component in addressing a range of institu- tional challenges we face. It is not a magic bullet, but an important tool. We want to hear from you about what is working and what is not. Your com- ments help guide us as we engage with the department. Send us a note at member@ afsa.org. n Leadership training is more than a once-a-grade activity. It is a constant process of learning and growth.